It was completely bizarre waking up in a completely different country and not being around my family for Christmas, but Christmas Day in Rabat started with clear blue skies and the promise of visiting Meknes, another Imperial City later, in the day.
According to our tour paraphernalia, although it was only established as Morocco’s capital in 1912 by the French, Rabat’s history stretches back to a settlement in 8BC, at what is now the Chellah area.
We arrived at Chellah early, the sun beaming through the trees. The vast site was entirely peaceful except for the hundreds of thousands of storks clacking their beaks, and the strains of the royal trumpeters practicing somewhere nearby.
We had about an hour to wander through the ruins of this historic area, and at first I thought that was going to be about 45 minutes too long. But actually, it was a lovely place to hang around in the sun, and admire the views over a colourful valley.
The storks, who nested in the tops of tall palm trees, clacked away, impressing their mates with a bizarre beak-bashing dance. It was really amusing to watch. Hundreds of cats also called this place home, and it was really sweet to walk round a corner to see what looked like a Cat’s Sunbaking Club – six or so cats were sprawled lazily in the morning sun, grooming themselves, and completely oblivious to us tourists.
I really loved Chellah. It was the perfect place to reflect on 2007 and consider the big changes that were looming in 2008.
Next stop was a local supermarket, to stock up on food for a Christmas lunch picnic. We were able to buy wine here too – sold in black plastic bags (which were rather conspicuous by default). Alcohol was not readily available throughout Morocco, but it was available in some supermarkets and hotel bars. Mohammed explained that while alcohol was forbidden as part of the Muslim way of life, it didn’t stop locals from drinking. Still, there was a slight sense that it was not an overly accepted thing to do.
With fresh food and bottled water in hand, we set off into the Moroccan countryside en route to Meknes.
I was surprised at how quickly the countryside changed. I don’t know what I expected Moroccan countryside to be like, but it seemed to vary in colour and texture every half an hour.
We pulled over to the side of the road, and Mohammed indicated we were at our lunch stop. It was a quiet little area, and we clambered, goat-like, down the hill into a green clearing. It was a shame to see so many empty plastic bottles and litter strewn all over the place. This was to be a constant site throughout Morocco, which was a real shame.
Rogue plastic bags and bottles aside, our Christmas picnic was great! We shared bread and cheese and mandarins, and whatever other nibblies people had bought.
I had loaded my Ipod with Christmas tunes, and we chatted as Dean Martin sang Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow, which was pretty amusing. Perhaps more poignantly, the words to Bandaid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas echoed loud in my mind. We saw a lot of poverty in the next two weeks – kids and old people begging, and living in what we would consider to be sub-standard conditions. It reminded me to be thankful for what I had, and more thankful for things I took for granted – like unlimited food and running water, flushing loos and heating.
Lunch and reflection over, it was time to get back on the bus and drive to Meknes.